Mid Month Marvels: Old Dog Haven

A recurring theme in this blog is the celebration of people and/or organizations that have a positive impact on their communities. What they do is not easy, but it’s inspirational, and we don’t hear enough about them. So I’ve decided to commit to singing their praises at least once a month. I’ll be calling it Mid-Month Marvels. If you have any suggestions for the focus of this monthly spotlight, let me know in the comments below!

For my first Mid-Month Marvel, I’ve decided to focus on one of my husband’s favorite organizations: Old Dog Haven. According to their website, “Old Dog Haven is a small nonprofit group using a large network of foster homes to provide a loving safe home for abandoned senior dogs in western Washington. When we have room and the means, we take these dogs into our homes. We adopt out those dogs with a reasonable life-expectancy. We care for the rest as members of the family in permanent foster homes (what we call “Final Refuge”) for as long as they have good quality of life. In addition, we try to assist owners in finding new homes for their senior dogs through our website and referrals.”

This amazing organization is about to celebrate its 15th anniversary. They usually have about 330 dogs in their care, and these are dogs who are in their final years of life and deserve extra love and care. If left to regular shelters, their odds of being adopted would be very slim. And the stress and confusion of shelter life for these dogs would do more harm than good.

Old Dog Haven doesn’t have a kennel. All their dogs stay in loving homes. It’s all about quality of life without heroic measures. When an ODH dog is placed in a final refuge home, ODH pays for all veterinary care and medications. Their medical costs average 80k a month, so needless to say they appreciate donations as well as foster homes.

There are several ways you can help. You can adopt a dog, in which case they become yours and that includes their medical bills. You can become a Final Refuge for a dog, and ODH pays for all veterinary care and medications. You can make a one time donation, a monthly donation, or sponsor a dog. You can donate to the Maranda Fund to help pay for major surgeries. You can donate a vehicle. You can even leave a legacy in your will. You can also volunteer to be a foster parent, or transport the dogs, or participate in outreach events or fundraising.

When I asked my husband what he loves most about this organization, he said, “I love the knowledge that there’s an organization that values these dogs. Sometimes they are left behind when an owner dies, sometimes their health issues become too expensive for owners. This organization saves the dogs and covers their medical bills and what they need are open hearts, open minds, and open homes to give the love these dogs deserve. I’ve respected this organization for years and donated to them on many occasions. I was so pleased to discover that one of my first clients (that had dogs instead of kids) was a foster home for Old Dog Haven. Later on I was pleased to discover in the ODH newsletter that he had gone on to become a board member for them.”

Organizations such as Old Dog Haven reaffirm my faith in mankind. I hope you’ll join us in supporting them or places like theirs in your community.


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A Senseless Monument to Ego

Even as you read this, bulldozers are plowing a trench through some of our most precious landscape. Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is theoretically federally protected, but it’s the federal government that is doing the plowing.

Why? For Trump’s border wall. Because he wants to get re-elected, he’s trying to score political points. Never mind that this is a designated International Biosphere Reserve that is recognized by UNESCO. Forget that it will go right through one of the oldest inhabited places in North America, and the ancestral home of the Tohono O’odham nation, which has existed on both sides of the border since at least 1450.

According to this article, this 30 foot wall will impede the migration patterns and habitats of mountain lions, javelinas, the endangered pronghorn, and countless numbers of bird species. And talk about draining the swamp. This will impede Arizona’s last free flowing river, and as aquifers are drained to make the concrete, it will decimate the habitats for the endangered Quitobaquito pupfish and Sonoyta turtle. It will also cause light pollution with its continual spotlights, in a place where you could always see millions of stars in the night sky.

Trump has waived countless laws to make this travesty happen, including the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Air Act. He claims this is a national emergency. Pfft. This area sees about 5 percent as much human migration as the Rio Grande Valley in Texas does. This catastrophic monument to Trump’s ego is poorly thought out, a taxpayer drain, and an environmental disaster, all for an emergency of his own construction.

I’m so angry right now.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

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El Norte

After graduating from college for the first time, I was struggling to figure out what to do with my life, so I took a series of jobs. None of them were a perfect fit, but they all taught me a great deal.

At one point, in an effort to keep the student loan wolves from the door, I took a minimum wage job at Video Action, a video rental place in Apopka, Florida that, needless to say, no longer exists. I was only there for two months because I needed to make more money than that, but I remember the place fondly.

Working there was fun. To prevent theft, they’d leave the video boxes empty on the shelves, and then when the customer brought them up to the counter, you’d have to go get the vhs tape from the back for them. There was a lot of running around, and a lot of fascinating people to meet. The shift always went by quickly.

At Video Action, I met an octogenarian woman who would come in every week and rent about a dozen porn videos. She gave me hope for the future. Getting old doesn’t mean you’ve died.

Another person that gave me hope for the future was the 16-year-old girl who owned and managed the place in order to raise her baby. Jessie was amazing. She showed me that your life is what you make of it. I often wonder how her life turned out.

There was a large Mexican migrant population in Apopka, because it was a farming community. I was kind of drawn to them because I majored in Spanish in college, mainly because I got tired of people being able to talk about me on the school busses in Apopka without me understanding them. They kind of shaped my life without knowing it.

Whenever they came in, I’d recommend the movie El Norte, ostensibly because it was the only bilingual video we had, but also because it is an amazing film about Guatemalan refugees who are forced out of their country due to violence, and they travel through Mexico and sneak into the US, undocumented, in an effort to have a better life, with very mixed results. I figured these people could relate to this video on a lot of levels.

And it’s a beautiful movie, too. In Guatemala, in particular, it’s infused with rich color. And I truly believe it makes you get inside the immigration experience in ways you could never understand otherwise.

Recently I was thinking of this movie and decided to watch it again. Yes, it’s as beautiful and moving as I remembered. The horrible thing about it is that even though it came out in 1983, it’s still relevant to our current immigration situation. If anything, things have become much worse under our current racist administration. How heartbreaking. Shame on us.

See this movie. See the special features that come with it, too. Your eyes will be opened.

El Norte

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I have always been fascinated by repressive, authoritarian regimes, kind of in the same way I slow down to look at traffic accidents and read all I can about serial killers. There’s nothing good about them, but I am curious as to how these things came to be. I want to make sense of them, in hopes that I can avoid them and/or prevent them from replicating themselves. Knowledge is power.

Until recently, I’d have said the worst of the worst of all the countries on earth was North Korea, with its empty cities, famines, indoctrination and buttoned-up-tight borders. I can’t imagine living like that, and I know that that’s simply my good luck for not having been born there. But just recently I heard of a country that is, if anything, even more insane, and the creepy thing is it’s rarely talked about. I’m talking about Turkmenistan.

The only reason this country even popped up on my radar is that Last Week Tonight with John Oliver did a hilarious 20 minute segment on its current ruler, Garbanguly Berdimuhamedov because he is so completely and utterly weird. He called him a fierce authoritarian and mentioned that Human Rights Watch World Report 2019 says Turkmenistan is “… one of the world’s most isolated and oppressively governed countries.” He went on to call it one of the worst places on earth. There’s no freedom of the press, and no right to voice an opinion. It is known for its arbitrary arrests and detentions, its endemic corruption and its forced labor.

Oliver stated that Berdimuhamedov is truly, deeply and compellingly odd. He showed clips of the man shooting at targets while slowly riding on a bicycle, recording a ridiculous rap video with his grandson, and falling off a horse in 2013 during a race, and then demanding that all footage of the event be destroyed, and locking down the airports until any such footage could be confiscated. (So of course Oliver showed that clip three times.)

Berdimuhamedov is so obsessed with horses that he named himself “The People’s Horse Breeder”. He has ordered beauty contests for horses. He has also written a poem about his latest horse and read it on national television.

All of this had me intrigued. From there, I went on to watch a 48 minute documentary called Undercover in Turkmenistan. This was an older video, about Turkmenbashi, the ruler who started this whole cult of personality business and ruled the country until his death in 2006. If anything, he makes Berdimuhamedov look like your sweet old grandma. This documentary stated that the country is “sealed up tighter than a jar of gherkins.”

Much of the documentary took place in the capital city, which is full of Italian marble and gold. In fact, there used to be a 15 meter tall statue of Turkmenbashi made of gold that revolved throughout the day to face the sun. It’s also ground zero for the world’s largest indoor ferris wheel, which is almost never used.

Turkmenbashi also wrote the Ruhnama, which he treated like a guide for living. You had to answer questions about it to take your driving test. School kids were tested on it. There were crosswords in the newspaper based on it. And Turkmenbashi renamed the month of September for it.

He also banned dogs, cinemas, car radios, ballet, and circuses, because they are apparently not Turkmen enough and unnecessary. He also decreed that all cars must be white. Meanwhile, dissidents disappear, foreign newspapers were banned, the internet didn’t work, and hotel rooms are still bugged to this day.

On the plus side, according to the documentary, child labor was banned, as was the death penalty, and they erected an arch of neutrality to celebrate the decision to never go to war and never join with anyone else who goes to war. Well, those are good things. But they say Mussolini claimed he made the trains run on time, and I wouldn’t want him back in Italy. (Incidentally, that train thing is false, according to this article in Snopes.)

Another interesting video is from a Youtube series called Kinging It, which I highly recommend. Just regular, engaging people, traveling to crazy places. When they went to Turkmenistan, they said a tracker was placed on their car, and there were watch towers everywhere. They were told they couldn’t exit their route, and couldn’t stop. The roads and all the hotels (which are all 5 star) are completely deserted. They went to a big mall, but all it contained was one restaurant, one toilet, and a bunch of empty shops. When they tried to take photos that included soldiers, those soldiers pounded their guns on the ground by way of warning.

According to Wikipedia, Turkmenbashi came to power in 1991 when the Soviet Union ceased to exist, and immediately became president for life. He closed all hospitals outside of the capital, and all rural libraries. Each broadcast under his rule began with a pledge that the broadcaster’s tongue would shrivel if he slandered the country, flag, or president. (No pressure there.)

Lonely Planet, a travel guide that is never one to mince words, calls this country a “totalitarian theme park”. That made me want to learn more about its tourism aspects. For that I went to Wikitravel.

There, I learned that Turmenbashi had the month of January named after himself, and then he named the month of April and also renamed “bread” after his mother. He also banned lip synching, long hair, video games, and golden tooth caps. He also said, “I’m personally against seeing my pictures and statues in the streets – but it’s what the people want.”

But if you are still interested in visiting this strange place, here is some handy, sometimes chilling advice from wikitravel that was too fascinating for me to avoid quoting at length. It begins with several places to visit.

  • Avaza – a multi-billion dollar construction project near Turkmenbashi aimed at creating a “national touristic zone” of over 60 world-class hotels, shopping, and a new international airport. The government likens the project to Dubai, but there is little foreign investment thus far.

  • Darvaza Flaming Crater — At this spot near the town of Darvaza, an oil rig accidentally struck a large pocket of natural gas in 1971. The rig collapsed into the cavern, resulting in a large crater filled with fire. It was decided to let the fire burn rather than let the poisonous gas escape into the nearby town. The fire, while expected to burn itself out quickly, burns to this day and it is popularly nicknamed The Gateway to Hell. The gas crater is best viewed at night. There are no facilities around the gas crater. Camping in this area is common. Getting to the gas crater with a small personal car can be difficult. The last 7 kilometers from the main road are on desert sand and small cars often get stuck. While a handful of travelers do walk to the flaming crater, the hike is strenuous and not pleasant, especially on a windy day or during the summer time heat. If you are traveling on a transit visa, you may ask a nearby teahouse for transport to the crater, which will cost around 150 TM.

  • Pay a visit to Kow Ata underground sulfur lake, found in the mountains an hour or so outside Ashgabat. It is possible to swim in the year-round warm, mineral rich, and medicinal waters. Expect a walk down increasingly slippery steps, and a corrugated shack to change in – unless you’re handy with your towel. Kow Ata means Father of the Lakes. The cave is more than 200 meters long, 20 meters high and at some point more than 50 meters wide. The water has a constant temperature of 33 to 37 degrees Celsius.

  • National Museum of Turkmenistan — The National Museum of Turkmenistan is a museum in Asgabat. It is split into three sections: natural history, science, and the current president of Turkmenistan. Entry is $30, and the museum is sparsely visited. Photography is not allowed anywhere in the museum, and during your visit you are accompanied by a museum employee who follows you and ensures you abide by their rules. It is quite an experience, and very entertaining as many items in their collections are not genuine – most obviously photos in the President’s museum. There are a slough of poorly photoshopped images of the president showing his wide variety of skills including teaching, playing tennis, racing, horseback riding, and many many more.

You need a visa to get in which requires a letter of introduction from a Turkmen tourist agency. Sleeping pills are not allowed. You need a long list of vaccinations. Lots of red tape. If the photocopy of your passport is oriented the wrong direction, it could delay you for weeks. There are registration fees. Entry and departure cards. You can’t leave without your departure card and a notice to leave stamped on your passport. You’ll also need travel permits for many regions.

No passenger trains or public transportation cross the border. To get there from Uzbekistan you have to walk 15 minutes across no-mans land.

Some travelers have faced problems attempting to travel to Turkmenistan by boat. Travelers should be aware that some “ferries” are in fact cargo ships that take on some passengers incidental to their primary function. Passengers are generally not provided food or water on these ships, and sleeping and sanitary facilities are likely to be rudimentary. Travelers should be aware that ships arriving at the port of Turkmenbashy often wait days offshore for outgoing ships to vacate the dock to allow incoming ships to disembark. Some travelers have spent more than a week offshore while their ship awaited permission to enter the port, and they have run out of stores of food and water, or had their Turkmen visas expire before they could be used.

Most taxis are unofficial. Just hail the first car you see and pay what’s fair.

Roadblocks are in place throughout the country, so this method is really best used only within city limits unless you are specifically looking for trouble.

Expect distinctly average Turkman or Russian cuisine in restaurants.

Do not criticize, insult or speak badly of the President, the country or its people. Things have eased a bit since Turkmenbashi’s death, but the country remains a tightly-controlled police state. The Ruhnama, a book written for the Turkmen people by Suparmurat Niyazov is still sold, and still taught in Turkmen schools. As such, it is best regarded to not criticize the former President as well.

As a general rule of thumb, keep your opinions about the country’s politics to yourself since speaking out against the government is a crime for which you can be given a prison sentence, or if you are a foreign citizen, the remote possibility of deportation from the country.

If you are searched remain calm and importantly do not let the police put their hands in your pockets, empty your pockets yourself and present their contents. You do not want to be the victim of drug planting in a country that has corrupt police and severe penalties for drug possession.

Turkmen law enforcement are well trained and professional, but be warned that they are very aggressive, especially during the night, so do expect some sort of harassment from them.

Due to their low salaries, bribery by the police is common and is a fact of life for many locals, given that Turkmenistan was ranked as one of the top twenty corrupt countries in the world.

Many hotels are frequently bugged by the police. Bugging in hotel rooms is common – telephones, and fax machines may be monitored, and personal possessions in hotel rooms may be searched. Do not sign any documents provided by the police if it is in a language you do not know, as it may be that they may try to rip you off for some more money. Just be polite with them, and just say that you do not understand it.

Homosexual activities, prostitution and intercourse with prostitutes are prohibited, each of which is punishable with up to 2 years in prison.

So there you have it. Turkmenistan. It certainly makes me appreciate the life I have even more than I previously did.

Darvaza Crater in Turkmenistan

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The Hard Truth about Coal

There are few things that I find more annoying than being forced to listen to someone who is misinformed. I hate being spoon fed false information, and I hate it even more when it’s obviously biased and unresearched. For example, when someone spouts ignorance about the Koran, I automatically say, “Have you ever even READ the Koran? No? Then get back to me when you have.”

So imagine how much it rankled when I was stuck listening to a tour guide on a train, with no way out, when she said (twice!) that she didn’t know why the Alaska coal export industry collapsed, leaving thousands unemployed, but “it happened during the Obama administration.” Wink, wink.

By the way, this woman also said that global warming is “cyclical”, despite every single solitary graph that shows that what’s happening now is extreme and unnatural. So let’s face it, the woman was a fool. And I was stuck on the train with her, there was no escaping that fact, and I knew there was no point in attempting to lead her out of ignorance. It would have just gotten awkward. So I gritted my teeth.

But all this irritation has to go somewhere, dear reader, so brace yourself. I’m about to purge myself. You’re going to be vented upon.

I decided to do a little bit of research about the coal industry in general, and Alaska’s in particular. I learned a lot of interesting things. (And it provided the delightful side benefit of reinforcing my belief that that tour guide was a dunce. So, yay.)

First of all, it’s true that Usibelli Coal Mine, currently the only operational coal mine in Alaska, is no longer exporting coal to foreign countries. It used to export to South Korea, Chile, Japan, and other pacific rim countries, but no more. It now has only about 115 employees, and their focus is on Alaska power plants.

Why is this? First of all, according to this article, in 2011 Usibelli exported 1.3 million tons of coal, but in 2012 this number fell to 877,000 tons, and by 2014 was only 513,000 tons.  In 2015, no shipments were made to South Korea or Chile and a mere 150,000 tons were exported to Japan.

This drop in demand has made it unfeasible to export coal to Asia. The high production costs, the remote locations, and the shipping expenses make this coal uncompetitive. Also, according to this article, China, the largest consumer of coal on the planet by a country mile, has drastically reduced its imports. In fact, its consumption “appears to have peaked in 2014.”

According to this article, China has closed over 1,000 of its own mines, due to lack of need, so it’s certainly not going to prioritize imports. And the price of coal is dropping globally, with no end in sight.

South Korea and Chile’s markets were a mere drop in the bucket compared to China’s. By that I mean they constitute about 1 percent of global consumption. India takes up about 10 percent of the world’s coal consumption, but even their consumption is dropping annually. That means exporters around the globe are hurting. It’s not just us. Australia’s coal mining industry is in poor shape as well.

So, yeah, if you’re looking to make money from coal, you’re wasting your time. As more and more countries turn to green energy sources, they’re turning away from coal. As more and more countries realize they should invest in service industries rather than factories, they’re turning away from coal. Investing in coal is tantamount to investing in the Model A Ford.

Coal is dying. And it should. It’s long overdue.

Do I feel sorry for the people who have lost jobs? Of course. But it’s unreasonable to expect the world to prop up an industry that has no demand or use because of that. Some realities are harsh, but they’re still inevitable.

If you’re too short-sighted to realize that the world is outgrowing coal, and you’re looking for someone to blame, don’t blame Obama. Don’t be that simplistic. Realize that the times are changing, and you’d be well advised to change with them.

And, um, don’t spread your ignorance to a captive audience. This train is moving down the track, honey. With or without you. Just sayin’.

Coal Miners

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News Blackout

The entire two weeks of my Alaskan vacation, I did not access the news. Not once. No newspapers, no radio, no streaming media. Nothing. Aliens could have invaded the planet and I wouldn’t have known. Cheeto-head had to fend for himself. The human moral compass no doubt continued to spin erratically in search of true North. I was not subjected to the vertigo that that can cause.

It was pure bliss.

Oh, I was already aware of the stress that news causes me. I knew that not a day goes by without my feeling frustrated, helpless, and outraged because of the things going on in the world. I knew I needed a break.

But as they say, a fish doesn’t know the quality of the water it is in until it jumps out of it. I knew it was bad, but I didn’t expect to feel my blood pressure drop. I felt physically better. More rested. My attitude improved. People didn’t seem to suck nearly as much as they normally do. (Well, most of them, anyway.) It was cleansing.

I’m not saying that we should bury our heads in the sand as a general rule. Our leaders must be held accountable. We must bear witness. We have to strive for change or else society will sink to its lowest common denominator.

But every now and then, it’s nice to be reminded that the earth is going to continue to revolve around the sun with or without my help. It’s good to take time to reassess and revitalize. It’s important to live to fight another day.


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Hannah Gadsby: Nanette

In keeping with my distressing habit of doing the doggy-paddle several years behind any and all pop culture waves, I present you with my latest discovery: the comedy special Nanette, by Hannah Gadsby. It’s from 2017. You’ll find it on Netflix, because they released it in 2018.

In my own defense, it only just received a Creative Arts Emmy for Outstanding Writing for a Variety Special last month. That’s how I managed to hear any buzz at all about it. And I’m so grateful that I did. I have this interview on PRI’s Studio 360 to thank for that.

Before this, I’d never heard of the Australian comedian Hannah Gadsby. Having seen Nanette, I feel as though calling her a comedian is a bit too simplistic. And if all you’re looking for is a few easy laughs, you might want to look elsewhere.

No. This show makes you think. It makes you laugh. It makes you squirm. It makes you cry. It makes you see the world differently. It has substance and value. If you see no other show, see this one.

The special starts off funny enough. She’s hilarious, actually. And this humor is her way of introducing herself to you. So you’ll listen. So you’ll take note.

But about half way through, the show takes a rather intense turn. It becomes a confession about who she is and how she feels about herself, and why we all should realize how important that is. And then it turns into an education. It demonstrates exactly what it’s like to be inside her skin.

So I leave you with a few quickly written quotes that I jotted down while watching the show for the second time. Out of context, entirely. You should watch the show. But these things should make you blink, at the very least.

This first one made me cheer, because I relate to it so much.

“All my life I’ve been told, ‘Don’t be so sensitive!’ Why is insensitivity something to strive for?”

“You learn from the part of the story you focus on.”

She states that Pablo Picasso had an affair with a 17 year old girl, and suffered from the mental illness of misogyny. And that misogyny should be considered a mental illness because you hate the thing you desire. She also said that Pablo Picasso said, “Each time I leave a woman I should burn her. Destroy the woman and you destroy the past she represents.”

She then goes on a very fascinating rant about art history, and all the unnecessary nude paintings of women, and said that high art turns women into “flesh vases for your dick flowers.” (Harsh, I know. You have to see the special to really get it. But once you do, you can’t forget it.)

She also says, “If I am the only woman in the room, I’m afraid,” and went on to say if you don’t understand that, you aren’t talking to the women in your life. Amen, sister.

But by far the best quote of all from this show is “There is nothing stronger than a broken woman who has rebuilt herself.”

What a fantastic show. What a profound show. Watch it, then tell me what you think.


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